People with Passion
Chris Jackson, of Wicker Park’s Jackson Junge Gallery
Interview October 22, 2010
Located at 1389 N. Milwaukee, the Jackson Junge Gallery celebrated their year anniversary on Friday, October 22nd. In this pair of interviews, Jack M Silverstein speaks with husband-wife team Chris Jackson, 43, and Laura Lee Junge, 41, about their gallery, their interest in promoting the arts, the effects of aging on artistic exploration, and their hopes for the Jackson Junge Gallery in Wicker Park.
She was doing full-time artist, and working in the restaurant business. Bartending, waiting tables, whatever it takes to pay the bills. Myself, kind of the same thing. Pursuing more of a theatre degree. We came together with her brother, and we had this great concept right around 2000. We were going to do a big frame shop, a theatre – he’s a chef, so we were going to do kind of a café-type high-end restaurant – and then the art gallery, all under the same roof. We were totally off our rocker thinking we could ever afford such a thing. (Laughs.) But we always kind of kept the dream alive.
We formatted a company – this was about 2001 or so – that was the beginnings of the whole gallery. It was more rallying around Laura’s art, rather than other artists. We worked the art fair circuit for many years to raise funds. We kind of said, “Okay, if we’re gonna do this, we have to make it work.” So we said, “Okay, let’s start doing some local art fairs,” and it was great. Found great success. Able to pull in some good money. Not enough to quit the jobs, you know…
Then we had a gallery on Fulton Market. It was on the third floor. Pretty successful. It was the first time trying it. Found that we didn’t get much traffic during the daytime, but during the weekends, a couple people came by, especially on openings. Then we retreated out of there to a little art studio. We still have it, on the West Side. It’s where Laura paints. I built a frame shop in the back. Then we started pursuing, “How can we make the gallery big, get more of a street presence, make an impact in the city of Chicago?”
And be full time.
And do it full time. It was one of those decisions where you do it as a destination spot in a really cool, hip, West Side old building, where you can have tons of space, but no one really knows you’re there. Or kind of do it in a trendier neighborhood. We definitely picked the latter, a trendier neighborhood where we’d have more visibility. People can always see what’s going on through our front windows.
We expanded our art fair circuit. We started hitting the national circuit and doing big art shows all over the country. Full time job, really – traveling, painting whenever she can – just a busy, busy thing in a big truck traveling the United States.
I’ve always been in the arts. My mom is an English teacher, so humanities took me all around the world, seeing this church for this particular painting, this museum, you know. Really as a little kid, I’ve always had a passion for the arts. I got more interested in the theatre arts for my college education and kind of went down that route.
Promoting the arts has always been a big part of my life, and then it turned into selling, which is a completely different thing. Totally different. And that’s really where Laura, like most artists – you know, they love to paint, hate to sell. And I do like people, which made it easier for me. We made a good team.
Knowing how big the gallery we finally built here, we decided it couldn’t just be Laura’s work. We really needed to incorporate some other artists in it. That’s really where we are today. We have about eighteen different artists, always looking for more to expand. This past year we did nine different exhibits. We had three different theatre performances, four concerts, a wedding – Yeah! There’s a lot going on.
I look at Laura as my wife, but when I look at the gallery, it’s not just about Laura. It’s about all the arts. Everything. There’s just not enough in our world today. Not enough nearly goes for education, or supporting the arts. The endowments for the artists are always the first things to be cut. We really need people to step up and give a venue, a voice, for a lot of these young artists that are graduating from the Art Institute that are struggling. They don’t really know how to sell their stuff. And, you know, I’m not really good at it, but I like providing a venue for young people to come and do their thing. They’re so expressive, and if I can give them the stage to do it on, so be it. That’s where my passion comes from.
Wicker Park has always been defined by the Flat Iron Building, which is really fifty different artists in their own studios. Some have more gallery space, some are very raw. Which is really cool. That’s what that is. I think the Jackson Junge Gallery brings something a little bit different to the table. We’re a little bit more of a polished show room. A big way we hang things in the gallery is to give it, what we call “air,” “space.” Things aren’t hung parlor, where it’s one on top of another. Each piece gets its own breathing room and it’s own time to shine in the light.
Another thing we bring to the table is to have more three-dimensional, like the theatre performances or the music we’re having tonight, in the same setting among all this other artwork. It really is a multiple cultural faceted experience, and I hope that’s what people expect to see when they come to the Jackson Junge Gallery. Art is never just this two-dimensional painting on a wall. It’s three-dimensional. It’s deeper than just that.
So do you see art as not simply the work, and the artist working on the work, but the full communal experience of enjoying the work…
Yeah, I probably do. More communal, enjoying it. People come through the front door, and it’s not really for me like I want to sell them something. It’s more about I want them to experience it. I built this place to kind of resemble a museum, with the high ceilings and the exposed ductwork, really tall. I think that’s why we also hang the pieces the way we do. It’s about that experience. I want young people to be able to come in here, and I want old people to be able to come in here. We’re not a pretentious gallery. I want to be approachable. They come in to get inspired. That means so much more to me than people coming in and buying a painting.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I need people to buy paintings in order to keep afloat and keep the arts alive. But when people do come in and they support a local artist, they are giving back so much more to the community by keeping us alive, and the space going, and also supporting that particular artist. That’s really important to me.
Jack M Silverstein is a freelance writer covering music, sports, and community in Chicago. His first book, “Our President,” is available at Amazon.com. Say hey at twitter/readjack or facebook/readjack.
Click here for more on the Jackson Junge Gallery
People with Passion: Michel Balasis (another Wicker Park artist)
People with Passion archives